US ban on temporary work visas for Filipinos: What’s behind the move?

January 23, 2019 - 4:51 PM
US temporary work visa ban Interaksyon
The United States cited the growing number of human trafficking cases in the Philippines as the reason for the one-year temporary work ban. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos)

The United States’ ban on temporary work visas to the Philippines due to overstaying of victims of human trafficking brings to light the severity of the crime in the country.

The US Department of Homeland Security announced that the country is no longer eligible to visas for temporary non-agricultural jobs (H-2B) and temporary agricultural jobs (H-2A) on foreign workers starting from January 19, 2019 to January 18, 2020.

The agency cited the large number of T-nonimmigrant visas or T-visas, a type of visa given to victims of human trafficking who seek refuge on foreign land, issued by the US Embassy in Manila as the reason for the ineligibility.

It explained that these migrants were initially issued with H-2B visas but eventually were given T-visas in the US.

“DHS and Department of State are concerned about the high volume of trafficking victims from the Philippines who were originally issued H-2B visas and the potential that continued H-2B visa issuance may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines,” the DHS said.

A T-nonimmigrant status allows victims of “a severe form of trafficking” to stay in the US for four years. A severe form of trafficking under US federal law may either be sex trafficking or labor trafficking.

According to the agency, the US Embassy in Manila issued approximately 40 percent of the total T-visas worldwide from 2014 to 2016.

Sixty percent of these have been identified as victims of trafficking to the US through H-2B visas.

Aside from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia were also deemed ineligible for temporary working visas by the US.

Filipino victims of trafficking

A significant portion of migrant Filipino workers, particularly those in Middle East and in Asia, are victims of trafficking, the Trafficking in Persons report for 2018 stated.

The number of Filipino victims across the world is difficult to determine.

Such crime is also rampant in many places in the country, the report said.

Sex trafficking was found prevalent in the following places, Boracay Island, Angeles City in Pampanga, Olongapo in Zambales and in the provinces of Puerto Galera and Surigao.

Forced labor, begging and domestic servitude meanwhile were found in many parts of Metro Manila, urban areas of Mindanao and Cebu, and in central and northern Luzon.

Law enforcers identified 1,839 potential victims, wherein 1,422 were women and 410 were children.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported 1,659 potential victims.

“Women and children from indigenous communities and remote areas of the Philippines are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, and some are vulnerable to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agricultural, fishing, and maritime industries,” the report said.

Since 2015, the Philippines still remains on Tier 1 in the ranking of the United States for countries’ compliance to its Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Being on Tier 1 means the government complies with the TVPA’s “minimum standards.”

The TVPA is the measure of the Western ally to combat human trafficking.

Despite the status, the Philippines still behind in many areas for the victims’ protection and prosecution of traffickers.

Any form of trafficking is supposed to be prohibited under Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.

It covers recruiting, transporting and harboring Filipinos “under the pretext of domestic or overseas employment or training or apprenticeship, for the purpose of prostitution, pornography, or sexual exploitation.”

It also prohibits using marriage, adoption, organized tours and recruitment of Filipinos, particularly children, for exploitative purposes.

Appeal to remove the ban

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that the government will make an appeal for the United States to reconsider its decision.

“What we can do first is we need to know whether there is basis for their decision. If we can see that there is none, then we will ask for a reconsideration—but that’s the job again as I said of Department of Foreign Affairs and the United States ambassador,” he said.